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Tom Ferguson’s White Paper, “e-patients: how they can help us heal health care,” was many years in development. Early in the process Tom convened a gathering at Commonweal in Bolinas, CA. He invited many of the people who came together to form the “e-Patients Scholars Working Group.”

In addition, Tom included John Fiorillo, a consultant to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Since RWJF was funding the project, Tom felt that it was important to have John’s perspective.

One of the memorable comments John made at that meeting so many years ago used the metaphor of Wayne Gretzky, the hockey legend. He pointed out that Gretzky was never skating to where the puck was, but rather to where it would be in the future. That is why RWJF had funded an investigation of online health. John wanted to know where online health care would be in a few years.

Not surprisingly, Tom Ferguson was the medical equivalent of Wayne Gretzky. Tom realized the power of the Web almost immediately.

An article in the Wall Street Journal by William M. Bulkeley, “Playing Well With Others,” describes how IBM is using Second Life as a powerful social networking tool.

One of Tom’s e-Patient Scholars is John Lester. After helping start Braintalk at Harvard with Dan Hoch, MD, John went to work for Linden Labs, the company that created Second Life. John has taken social networking to the next level for e-patients. He has developed online virtual communities for people with Asperger’s syndrome and cerebral palsy.

The IBMers have 50 “islands” in Second Life and use them for lectures, group discussions and worldwide meetings. They are also using wikis for collaborative research. Tom envisioned all of this as making a major contribution to online connectivity and support among patients. It is fascinating to see that companies like Big Blue are catching up. Now let’s hope that our health leaders will recognize the power of these online tools.


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